Sunday, August 30, 2015

Montgomery Never Voided Tickets Issued With Skipped Calibration Tests

For several years, Montgomery County routinely issued speed camera citations on days where a basic requirement of the law for daily calibration logs was not met, yet refunds were never issued after this fact was disclosed.

We previously reported in 2010 that Montgomery County did not have daily setup logs for numerous days where citations were issued for many of their speed cameras. State law required the following:

"(3) A speed monitoring system operator shall fill out and sign a daily set–up log for a speed monitoring system that:
(i) States that the speed monitoring system operator successfully performed the manufacturer–specified self–test of the speed monitoring system prior to producing a recorded image;
(ii) Shall be kept on file; and
(iii) Shall be admitted as evidence in any court proceeding for a violation of this section."

We had hoped that Montgomery County would do the right thing and refund citations which had been issued when this basic calibration requirement – a requirement intended to protect the public from faulty speed cameras readings – was not met. However that never happened, and Montgomery County instead chose to keep the loot.
Sure enough the documents provided showed that NONE of the dates we requested in 2009 or 2010 had actual daily setup logs which met this requirement.  This included a date in September four months after our report on this issue and after the Washington Examiner reported this issue.... a time period which should have been more than adequate for Montgomery County to change their procedures.

When the press first discovered this fact, the county's reaction was one of total contempt for the law. Captain John Damesky, who headed the county's speed camera program at the time, responded to the Washington Examiner "We're not going to do this [test] every day. We're just not going to do that." --- denying that the county had an obligation to meet the clear wording of state law.  Montgomery County did eventually change their practices regarding how these calibration tests were performed, but only many months after the press became aware of the issue.  The dates when lapses were detected were primarily on weekends and holidays (since Montgomery County issues citations 24/7 at locations which are not inside school zones) but at the time it appears no speed camera operators were on duty to run required tests and fill out required logs.  

To follow up on this issue in June of 2015, a public information act request was sent to Montgomery County by a supporter of this site requested daily calibration logs for one camera located near Olney at 19600 Georgia Avenue northbound on the following dates: 9/6/2009, 10/31/2009, 11/28/2009, 12/27/2009, 1/3/2009, 1/03/2009, 1/31/2009, 2/14/2010, 4/3/2010, 5/30/2010, 9/5/2010, 5/18/2013. The requested dates included weekends when we were aware Montgomery County was issuing citations, but when we suspected they did not have speed camera operator on duty to meet that statutory requirement.  One more recent date in 2013 was included in the request for comparison purposes.

 Instead the county provided start-and-end calibration logs from other dates revealing that there were gaps in the calibration logs of several days.
Date Requested
Start Date of Log Provided
End Date of Log Provided
Gap in days
# Citations Issued on Date
9/5/20109/3/20109/7/20104(ie NOT "daily")44
5/18/20135/17/20135/18/20131 (ie "daily")40

The public information act also include a request for records showing how many of the citations issued were refunded or voided. The county responded to this that portion of the request “There has been no administrative voiding or refunding on the referenced dates above”.
In addition to having logs for numerous days missing, many of the logs showed that the "operator" had "signed" to having performed a step in the setup procedure which was BLANK on the logs.  This apparent error existed in daily setup logs day after day, month after month, FOR YEARS, yet thousands of citations were approved for cameras with these defective logs without question.  The cameras were simply assumed to be in perfect working order, even though the logs themselves were not.

Other local governments have issued refunds for citations where annual calibration requirements were not met.  However Montgomery County went to court, at taxpayer expense, to support the principal that a speed camera program could not be sued for the refund of speed camera tickets that have already paid, regardless of the reason. As such, it currently appears that when it comes to a SYSTEMATIC issue with Montgomery County's speed camera, the rule they follow is “Once you have their money, never give it back”. The addition of a so called “Ombudsman” to Montgomery County's program (a term they have since rejected as describing the program's “Local Designee”), has not changed this at all, since it did not result in refunds for this potentially very large number of illegally issued citations.

Montgomery County may have succeeded in getting the legislature to write them a free pass on similar issues that may occur in the future.  In 2014, under the guise of “reform” to the system, the legislature passed a change to state law which modified the wording of the requirement for daily setup logs to instead say “(3)   A speed monitoring system operator shall fill out and sign a daily set–up log for a speed monitoring system that: (i)   States that the speed monitoring system operator successfully performed or reviewed and evaluated the manufacturer–specified daily self–test of the speed monitoring system prior to producing a recorded image;”.   This seemingly minor change removes the requirement that the person signing the logs actually perform the test, or witness that it actually took place.  This not only permits an additional level of “hearsay evidence” to be used against defendants in speed camera hearings, since the operators could testify to the results of tests which were performed when they were not even on duty.  Thus a local government could argue this change makes it legal to have one single "operator" push a button from a remote location to electronically "sign" all logs for a day without ever observing the camera itself. The legislation which enacted this change was part of the “speed camera reform act of 2014”, which was written by a speed camera reform legislative work group whose meetings included at least three members of Montgomery County's automated traffic division; opponents of speed cameras were not invited.